Andrew McCabe, the FBI official who became a target for President Trump, now faces the possibility of criminal charges — the latest fallout from an internal watchdog report that found he lied to investigators.
The findings of that report, by the inspector general of the Justice Department, were referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington within the last few weeks, according to a statement from a McCabe lawyer on Thursday, following news accounts on the matter.
"Although we believe the referral is unjustified, the standard for an [inspector general] referral is very low," said the statement by lawyer Michael R. Bromwich. "We have already met with staff members from the U.S. Attorney's Office."
He added, "We are confident that, unless there is inappropriate pressure from high levels of the Administration, the U.S. Attorney's Office will conclude that it should decline to prosecute."
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
The internal report found that McCabe, a career agent who rose to deputy director, repeatedly made false statements regarding his efforts to influence a newspaper report about disputes within the FBI over an investigation. McCabe said he didn't know where the leaks came from, but he later admitted that he authorized them, according to the findings. Among the people he misled, the report said, was his boss, then-FBI Director James B. Comey.
Ahead of the report's release, McCabe agreed to retire in March and left his job early. But he was fired by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, late on a Friday night, March 16, just ahead of his planned retirement. McCabe and his supporters described the action as an act of vindictiveness to appease the president. The firing could affect McCabe's pension payments.
Trump's ongoing anger about the separate investigation of Russia's 2016 campaign interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign, and what he sees still as the FBI's soft treatment of Hillary Clinton, found a target in McCabe last year. The president noted that McCabe's wife, who ran a losing race for state office in Virginia, received campaign support from a political fund operated by the Virginia governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton protege.
The president repeatedly attacked McCabe on Twitter, continuing after the report's release last week. "He LIED! LIED! LIED!" Trump wrote, adding that McCabe and Comey were part of a "den of thieves and lowlifes."
Late Thursday, Trump reveled in the news about the criminal referral of the McCabe report, writing on Twitter, "James Comey just threw Andrew McCabe 'under the bus.' Inspector General's Report on McCabe is a disaster for both of them! Getting a little (lot) of their own medicine?"
There is more to come from the inspector general. The office looked into McCabe as part of a broader examination of how the FBI dealt with its investigations into Clinton's handling of her emails as secretary of State and possible conflicts involving the Clinton Foundation, the family's charity.
The report said McCabe authorized senior FBI officials to speak to a Wall Street Journal reporter who was preparing a story about friction between the FBI and the Justice Department over the inquiry into the foundation. Told that some in the bureau thought he was trying to put brakes on the investigation, McCabe instead pointed a finger at a lawyer in the Justice Department.
While McCabe said he was trying to protect the FBI, the report said he was motivated more by trying to protect himself. Comey told investigators he was unhappy about the story and talked to McCabe about it. "I had a strong impression he conveyed to me, 'It wasn't me, boss,'" Comey told the internal investigators.
McCabe said he told Comey repeatedly that he was "working with the Wall Street Journal," Bromwich said.
The lawyer added that neither Comey nor the inspector general's office "is infallible, and in this case neither of them has it right."